80 years ago, on the unfortunate day of April 5th 1932, one of world’s most inspirational animal passed away. 5year-old, Pharlap the horse; died in the arms of his strapper, Tommy Woodcock, Menlo Park, California. The death of this well-known and admired horse had a devastating effect on the Australia and the world. Phar Lap was more than just a horse. He was a symbol of inspiration to the people who had almost lost all hope during the hard years of the Depression.
Phar Lap was born in New Zealand and purchased for the bargain price of 160 pounds by trainer Harry Telford and American owner David Davis in 1927. Telford had bought the horse based on his good pedigree and his large size; however after seeing his performance in his first few races, even Telford began to doubt his purchase. Phar Lap was certainly no dream for any trainer. Off the track he was mischievous, often pulling his trainer's hair and tearing the shirts of stableboys. On the track he was rather weak, clumsy and constantly tripping over, coming dead last in his very first race. In his next 3 runs the same year he was still always unplaced .Then in 1929 his fine sequence began. Soon after He began to win a series of races including the Rosehill Guineas and the A.J.C. Derby. He was now a serious competitor. As a result he went into the 1929 Melbourne Cup, Australia's biggest race, as favourite. That day he came third.
Phar lap recorded 37 wins, 3 seconds and 2 thirds from a total of 51 starts. The clearest illustration of Phar Lap’s greatness was his victory at Agua Caliente on March 20, 1932. It wasn’t so much the win, but the way he achieved it.
With an invitation for Phar Lap to race in the Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico, his owners jumped at the chance to see how he faired against the best in North America. Phar Lap had a long journey by ship and then horse van, to carry 129 pounds in a race which was held in the unfamiliar Mexican heat and on a dirt track which was completely different to the grass one he had always raced on. Despite all of this, in his first-ever overseas race on 20 March 1932, he managed to take out first place. He circled the field from last place to win easily by two lengths and with a new record of 2 minutes and 2.8 seconds.
Pharlap won over £56,425 throughout his races in Australia and a further $US50, 000 for his Agua Caliente win.
Pharlap was truly a legend in Australian horseracing history. Today more than half a century after his death, his mounted hide – a masterpiece of the taxidermist’s art – still attracts an endless stream of admirers to the National Museum in Melbourne.
Phar Lap’s fame rests partly on his magnificent record against the finest horses in Australia and finally America between 1929 and 1932. There was the 1930 Melbourne Cup, which he won with the heavy weight of 9 stone 12 pounds. There were two W. S. Cox Plates, Derbies in Sydney and Melbourne, the King’s Cup in Adelaide, and a brace of weight-for-age races.
His fame rests partly on his versatility. He won races as short as 1200m and as long as 2.25 miles (3600m). In the unforgettable Melbourne Cup carnival of 1930, he